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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
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  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
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Autumn in New York

MGM/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 102 mins . M15+ . PAL


There’s a long-standing tradition that regular visitors to the world of the low-budget TV movie will be all too familiar with. Known to many as the “Disease-Of-The-Week Telemovie”, it’s an old standby for producers short on ideas but in need of some material, one which makes for a handy story resource when all the other standard telemovie avenues - kidnappings, disasters, crimes, and biographies of famous people - have been exhausted. In a flash a story can be conceived that will tug on the heartstrings of a nation and keep ‘em watching until the end. Hell, in recent years it’s become a phenomenon to be reckoned with in hour-long serials, too - ER, Gideon’s Crossing, Chicago Hope, St Elsewhere… where there’s a hospital, there’s LOTS of diseases, all of which can be dispatched with lightning efficiency, plenty of pathos and the inevitable cries of “give me a portable chest, a litre of saline, a CBC, EPK, KFC, and lashings of O negative - oh, and type and cross-match Billy with that pony and page the accounting department, stat!”

Billy, of course, dies.

So what does all this have to do with Autumn In New York? More than you’d think, actually, though this particular story doesn’t waste much of its time in hospitals. The disease-of-the-week concept usually translates to feature films as a big, tearjerking romance, and writer Allison Burnett (who wrote and directed the unmemorable Red Meat a few years back) has obviously been watching MGM’s well-regarded tissue-consumer Untamed Heart - she’s gone for a very similar combining of across-the-tracks romance, heart disease and melodrama here.

Will Keane (Richard Gere) is a 48 year-old restaurant owner with a serious case of serial dating - he meets women, charms them by flaunting his sculptured and completely immobile grey Highlander Hair at them, sleeps with them, then dumps them with his own personal variation on “it’s not you, it’s me”. Yes folks, he’s your classic middle-aged womaniser, and for him, it’s a way of life. Until he meets Charlotte (Winona Ryder) at a dinner, who turns out to be the daughter of a woman he womanised many, many years before. It’s gobsmack-at-first-sight for our Will, who wastes no time sleeping with Charlotte and then trying his patented “it’s not you, it’s me” variant on her. She, though, is having none of that, and happily informs him that since she’s in the process of dying from a growth around her heart, why the heck not just enjoy the moment and keep seeing each other? This, of course, appeals to Will, except for one small problem - he’s falling in love with this woman who is, by his own admission, old enough to be his daughter. But by the time he realises what he’s truly in for, it’s too late, and he could well be a changed man forever. Indeed, he could even turn into a human being…

Much has been made by critics of the fact that this is yet another film where Richard Gere is paired with a female co-star and romantic partner substantially younger than him. In fact, this problem is extensively dealt with in the script and is a key plot point; it’s not impossible that rewrites were done to fit the lead actors, or even that it was written with them in mind, but that seems unlikely given the wider story arc of the film. Regardless, director Joan Chen (who many will better know as an actor, most notably in the TV series Twin Peaks and in Oliver Stone’s Heaven And Earth) allows plenty of screen time for this unusual situation to be explained in fairly credible terms; whatever your opinion on the concept of Gere and Ryder playing romantic leads, in the context of this particular story it does make sense.

Of course, anyone who’s seen more than two movies in this genre before will know how it’s all going to turn out within a quarter hour of the film’s opening scenes - there are few surprises here, though notably Chen refuses to go for the easy options during the film’s closing act. What makes this otherwise incredibly predictable and often clichéd romantic drama work - at least to the uncritical eye - is Winona Ryder’s performance. The part is fairly easy game for her after some of the more challenging roles she’s taken on, but she adds a lot of colour and texture to what could otherwise have been a join-the-dots characterisation of The Dying Girl Discovering The Beauty Of Life. While there really isn’t much depth to any of the characters in this film, Ryder at least manages to make us believe that she means the words she’s saying, and when some of those words are straight out of a Mills And Boon construction kit, that’s no small achievement. Richard Gere, meanwhile, is… well, he’s just Richard Gere again. You know what to expect. And there’s also an actress here who goes by the name of… wait for it… Tawny Cypress. No, really.

If you want an idea of where the script’s coming from, by the way, look no further than this quote, voiced to Richard Gere by Anthony LaPaglia’s character John: “I hate to tell you this, but there’s only two kind of love stories in this world - boy loses girl, girl loses boy, that’s it.” Now, you may be thinking that was a rather banal line of dialogue, but if so, you’re missing its genius. For with the utterance of that one simple line, we know for sure that neither John nor Will have ever been to San Francisco. That, folks, is movie magic in action!


Obviously realising that the audience’s visual impression of New York and its seasons is as important to the story as the script itself, director Chen has employed the remarkable skills of cinematographer Changwei Gu (who did amazing work on Ju Dou and Farewell My Concubine) to lens this one. And he’s has done an incredible job - the images here are stunning and refined, with amazing use of light and colour to enhance moods and the drawing of characters. On DVD his 1.85:1 cinematography looks wonderful on DVD, transferred to video pretty much flawlessly and superbly encoded on Roadshow’s version of the disc, which is single-layered but exhibits almost no compression problems at all, save for some very minor artefacting on highly detailed scenes that won’t bother this film’s audience at all.


There’s only the one audio track on this DVD, an English-language Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at maximum bitrate. Crystal clear and amply showcasing composer Gabriel Yared’s nicely restrained romantic score - as well as reproducing all dialogue perfectly cleanly - the audio here is hard to find fault with, especially considering that there are no pyrotechnics here at all.


This is no Collector’s Edition, nor does it claim to be. The only extra here, aside from the Dolby Digital Egypt trailer preceding the movie (and presented with more clarity than we’ve seen the PAL version of this trailer manage before) is a theatrical trailer and some biographies. The theatrical trailer is actually very well produced, not giving away more of the plot than absolutely necessary - though it does contain a very cheesy and inaccurate tagline that’s even worse than the one on the disc’s front cover! The bios are fairly extensive but are too limited - it’s the people that are not the principal cast that we want to know more about, not the well-known stars.


Ultimately, Autumn In New York is a well-made but utterly predictable tale (you won’t believe MGM apparently claimed “surprise ending” as an excuse to not show this to critics before its release!) that breaks no new ground even in the limited romance genre, but which at least has Winona Ryder’s winning performance and some gorgeous cinematography to recommend it. Fans of this particular brand of romance movie will be more than satisfied; other, more cynical viewers are best advised to take their critical cap off for 100 or so minutes and just go with the mood. Just don’t expect anything, in terms of story, that you haven’t seen on TV a dozen times before.

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      And I quote...
    "...a well-made but utterly predictable tale..."
    - Anthony Horan
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